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The Bookshelf, January 2019

The holidays, my brother’s wedding, and family in town meant I did not read much in December.

But cancer and isolation in January meant I had loads of time to read. Plus, I received two gift cards for places where the only thing I could purchase was books. Awesome! I couldn’t repurpose the gifts to buy socks for my kids or groceries. I had to buy books, which I did with great delight.

A Tree Full of Angels, by Macrina Wiederkehr. Beautiful. This quote says it all, “You live in a world of theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure.”

The Coddling of the American Mind. This book was fascinating. As a parent of two college students, a person involved in education, and an expatriate observing America from afar, I appreciated this balanced perspective on rage culture, “safetyism,” and changing ideas of what is violent or offensive. I admit to be slightly confused as to why a person feels unsafe because they are assigned a reading by someone they disagree with. Especially when in my world, I feel unsafe when people throw stones at me or grab my butt when I walk in the street. The dichotomy made it hard to understand aspects of American news. This book also brought about really great conversations with my college kids about campus culture, and mental health.

The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon. I read another novel, you guys! Must be the radioactivity going to my brain. I enjoyed it. Campus life, politics, religion…it was a quick and interesting read. According to NPR, “In The Incendiaries Kwon has created a singular version of the campus novel; it turns out to be a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of her young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.”

Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton. This was a gentle, sweet read to guide me into my days of nuclear-treatment and isolation for my cancer. If you are considering a few days of retreat, consider reading this ahead of time or bring it along.

Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammed. I love reading about women and sports, especially Muslim women and sports because there aren’t many stories in print (yet). And the story is a good one. My one complaint is that I found it a bit slow going.

Louder than Words: harness the power of your authentic voice, by Todd Henry. A lot of this book is geared toward writers, or creatives, but it is for more than just us. Its for for anyone trying to find their vocation, or passion, or obsession. The highlight for me was how Henry takes the reader through practical exercises to help develop a “manifesto” that can guide our decisions about work, creative or not.

Fear and Faith: finding the peace your heart craves, by Trillia Newbell. I read this in basically one sitting, while waiting in the waiting room and then the nuclear medicine room as I waited for my radioactive iodine treatment. They had to take a required pregnancy test, which meant I had a long time to wait. I love the title and there were plenty of wise words in this book. I appreciated her vulnerability about her own fears and losses. Sometimes, I find Christian books like this to be basically some nice stories and then some Bible verses. I wanted her to dig deeper. That could be a reaction stemming from my 16 years abroad – culture shock or culture shift or something. Like when she writes, like so many other American Christians, “For now, know what God wants to remind us that he will take care of all our needs…” and goes on to say how our basic needs like food and shelter will be met. And I want to shout, “But what about when they aren’t?!” Because that is what I see in the Horn of Africa and can’t yet find a book that is honest about how sometimes God doesn’t meet those needs we consider ‘basic human rights.’ Who is God then, and what is his plan? I believe he is still good and present, but let’s talk about that.

The Plot Whisperer: secrets of story structure any writer can master, by Martha Alderson. This book also comes with a workbook. For anyone working on a novel, screenplay, even a memoir, this book is incredibly practical and useful. Using the Universal Story as a guideline (ala Story, by Robert McKee), she breaks down what needs to happen over the course of a story, and when.

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. A memoir of near-death experiences. This book was scary and hopeful and brave and interesting. Every chapter is about one of the author’s near-death experiences. It made me think about when or if I’ve had experiences like that and how I’ve responded.

 

By |January 14th, 2019|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments

Cancer Super Powers

Day 2 of butt shots, done. A very literal pain in the butt.

So far, so good. I don’t feel too many side effects besides an ache, a headache, and fatigue.

Tomorrow I have another round of blood work and then the bizarre part of thyroid cancer really kicks in. The radioactive iodine pill and isolation.

To prepare, a friend gave me lovely flowers, a book, and soup. I bought another book with a gift card from my sister, and a journal. My mom gave me sour candies for sucking on (recommended), lots of other goodies, and a hot water pot (for coffee in my Cancer Sucks mug from my other sister). I have an exciting writing project to work on. I have a list of personal reflection questions to process through.

I’m trying to view this like a retreat.

I still think I deserve to get at least one super power out of this radioactivity.

But upon reflection, I do get super powers out of it. Just like every other cancer patient.

We get fresh perspective.

We get profound gratitude.

We get to experience our own strength.

We get to relinquish control.

We get to exercise faith.

We get to be loved well.

Those are probably the best super powers, anyway.

(Though I still wouldn’t mind the ability to fly.)

A Cancerous Disruption and Next Steps

Last Thursday my husband and youngest flew back to Djibouti.

I was supposed to be on that flight.

See, ever since 2003, I planned to spend the first semester of the twins’ university year in the US. So our plan all along was that I would stay in MN from September through the New Year. Which meant it was a convenient time for me to get cancer.

Sure, it was a distraction. I hadn’t planned to spend days and days at the doctor’s office or recovery from surgery. I hadn’t planned on shouting to my husband across the ocean, “I HAVE CANCER,” because the phone connection was poor. But we took all that in stride, mostly. I had the time to do the appointments, I was already here. Heck, it gave me something interesting to do. I guess.

But, I did plan to get on an airplane January 3 and go home.

And now I can’t.

Now, cancer has disrupted not only my life, but also my plan.

I have written before that safety is an illusion, a western idol. I don’t believe in safety.

Now, I understand on a deeper level that the same is true with control. I like to be in control. I easily buy into the illusion that I am in control and willingly, if unconsciously, worship at the idol of control. One thing cancer will do for an otherwise perfectly healthy young(ish) woman who eats well and exercises regularly and strives toward peace relationally is to reveal that illusion for the emptiness that it is.

Control is an illusion, an idol.

I am not in control of my life, I never was.

It is time to stop believing in control, the same way I stopped believing, years ago, in safety.

The loss of safety and the loss of control could easily lead to a debilitating fear. Terror, disease, loneliness, brokenness could be lurking around every corner, better not leave the house. Better not fall in love. Better not have a family. Better not put my heart into creative work.

Or, I can relinquish safety and control and I can turn around and grab on again to faith in a good God, a God with the unchanging identity of God With Us, the whole point of the season we just passed through. Christmas. Incarnation. Immanuel.

**

There is a new plan, I hope to get on an airplane January 30. I’m making choices, like getting a visa, that assume this date will be my travel date. But I understand now that this is something beyond me. Then there will be other flights and plane rides to continue taking care of this #dumbcancer. And again, I can’t control those. I guess this is what a life of actual faith looks like.

**

Today, Monday, I start the next phase of treatment. It is actually pretty quick. A series of injections and blood tests and body scans, then a crazy radioactive iodine pill, then several days of isolation, more blood tests and scans, and then, insha Allah, I’ll be cleared to fly.

I’ll tell you more about the pill later. While it will render me radioactive, it will not, unfortunately, cause me to glow in the dark or develop the ability to fly. I asked. The only super power I will earn is the ability to set off airport alarms with my body(!).

Today, its just a shot and blood tests.

Here we go.

 

By |January 7th, 2019|Categories: cancer|Tags: , , |1 Comment

Blessings for Expatriates

Quick link: A Blessing On Your Life Overseas

Today I’m at A Life Overseas writing about blessings and writers block/brain fog.

I’ve walked through darkness this year. In the lowest moments, a friend sent me blessings every day. I started reading John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. I am now sending blessings to someone I love dearly, to walk with her through her own dark days. My brother is getting married to a woman I adore, so I wrote them a marriage blessing.

I don’t believe in writer’s block (refuse the concept!) but I did struggle this month with brain fog. I have all kinds of excuses, but instead of listing them, I’ll tell you what I decided.

I decided we need blessing. We need to insist on it, to wrestle with God until he gives it to us, to turn to one another and offer it. We need to speak blessing, not rage. We need to receive blessing when it comes to us from unexpected places. We need to discover, anew, all it can mean to live as a blessing among the nations.

And so, I bless you, expatriate, and your life overseas.

I tried to write my own blessing but alas, brain fog. Or #blamethecancer? So I’m borrowing from other, wiser people…

Click here to read the blessings these other, wiser people have written and with which I bless you, expatriate.

By |December 19th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Gifts for Runners, 2018

Shalane Flanagan’s second cookbook (link to the first one below) Run Fast, Cook Slow, Eat Slow I want this. And the first one. I read them both on my Kindle, from the library. And then my friend had a hard copy and they are gorgeous books. Highly recommended.

Kara Goucher’s book, Strong. Yup, want this one too. Kindle books are awesome, but hard copies are also awesome, especially for beautifully produced books.

Destination race or running retreat, like the Podium retreat with Kara Goucher.

Desert Runners movie (free on Amazon Prime). I watched this recently and loved it. Especially after my own desert marathon in Somalia which included tears and vomit, too. This is gorgeous documentary of some of the world’s most intense ultra marathons. Even better than gifting it only, consider offering to watch it with them.

Baby-sitting so they can get out the door

Flip belt. I bought this one after reading lots of reviews. So far, it worked fantastic. It can hold my phone if I need it, Gu, keys, even large hotel keys for when I travel. It doesn’t slide around on my waist.

Garmin Vivoactive Watch


I used to wear a TomTom Spark but the battery quick charging and they stopped making the same model. But, when I was gifted the watch for Christmas, I also was gifted insurance. I used that insurance, got a full refund and put it toward this watch(!). I love the watch – GPS, music, heart rate, all kinds of activities including swimming and biking, and so much more. If you do get this, I highly recommend the insurance, at least if you live in a harsh place or use it a lot, like I do.

*For even more ideas, check out the list from 2017

*Runners World also has some great gift ideas, all for under $30

*includes affiliate links

By |December 17th, 2018|Categories: Running|Tags: , , |0 Comments